Shamans and Sobbing

3am.  After a merciful couple of weeks of half decent sleep the insomnia came back with a vengeance last night.  Having fallen asleep shortly before midnight I woke up a few hours later and laid awake for two hours hoping sleep would come back to me.  It was not to be, so I’ve fired up the laptop to write about what I experienced yesterday instead.

Something popped up on my Facebook feed a month or so ago, a shamanic breathwork workshop.  God knows what led me to splashing out $80 on this, but I figured what the hell, nothing ventured, nothing gained.  It was held at the same venue where I’d had the transformational ecstatic dance experience roughly this time last year (link here).  The very experience that led to the creation of this blog and all that has come since.  I figured that if it provided even a quarter of the crazy high I received from that limb-flailing, beautiful nonsense then it was money well spent.  It did not disappoint.

As usual with these things, I entered the room feeling a bit nervous, and unsurprisingly the group gathered was overwhelmingly female.  I was one of four men, the other twenty or so hopeful breathers were women.  The lithe and noticeably chipper young woman who was running the workshop embraced me in a hug as I entered the room.  Everything about her was warm.  She glowed radiant with positive energy.  As we gathered on yoga mats on the floor she took her place at the front, straddling a couple of cushions with the ease of someone who does a lot of yoga.  She looked like she did a lot of yoga.  I’m not sure how to explain this, but there was something about this woman that oozed sexuality.  I could feel it, in the way she moved, the way she talked, and the way she held eye contact with what felt like complete comfort.  She was fidgety, ditsy and lighthearted, but struck me as someone who was just completely at ease in her own skin.  She was immensely likable.

“Has anyone NOT breathed before?”

I thought this was a joke question, but half the room raised their hands.  She nodded knowingly and took this as her cue to walk us through what we could expect.  As we rapidly inhaled and exhaled we would be over-oxygenating our blood, our hands and feet would likely tingle, we may experience cramping, light-headedness, coughing, overwhelming emotion, groaning, moaning, orgasms, crying, wailing, nausea, vomiting and well, that was enough, surely?  I thought to myself “yeah, all right, love, I don’t think so” .

There is a clue in the title of this piece.  I’m finding that the older I get, the more I realise I haven’t got a fucking clue.  I understand now that when I was young(er) and thought I had all the answers, really I was just a fool.  There is a strange satisfaction to be had from knowing you’re an idiot and submitting to it.  Or at least that’s what I’ve found.

Before we got stuck in to the exercise the teacher asked us to answer a few questions on a piece of paper, the usual stuff.  What was our intention for the evening?  What would we like to let go of?  What would we like call more of into our lives?  I’ve done enough of this stuff, and yoga to know that fear is the root of all evil, and love is the answer to most problems, so I went with that.  I’ve been feeling a tiny bit anxious about life recently in the face of the recent mould revelation (link here), so I guess I was hoping to release some of that anxiety and know that everything was going to be ok.

Intentions set, it was time to begin.  I put my hoodie back on, my body temperature seemed to be fluctuating wildly despite the temperature in the room being comfortable and settled. We applied blindfolds, rubbed some essential oil on our chests and laid down to start.  My stomach was knotted.  Why I was nervous?  All I had to do was breathe for two hours, how hard could it be?  Oh such a fool.

Fast forward five minutes and I’m still laying on my back, sucking in air through my nose and pushing it back out through my mouth.  The air in the room is full of our collective carbon dioxide.  The physical and mental discomfort I felt in the first few minutes has started to dissipate, and I realise I’m no longer focused in on anything else going on in that room apart from my own breathing.  My right hand is on my chest, above my heart, my left is on my belly and it rises and falls rapidly as my lungs suck air in and out at a steady pace.  It’s all going swimmingly until two things happen: 1) my feet start to tingle, almost like a full blown attack of pins and needles, and 2) a lady in the room starts moaning like she’s having an orgasm.  And not a pathetic little whimper of an orgasm either.  No this sounded like a full body, shuddering, legs trembling, heart racing completely overwhelming, mind-bogglingly-good orgasm.  The kind of orgasm most men dream, but regularly fail to give a woman.  These events (mostly the second one) shocks my mind to life and my overthinking brain kicks back into gear.  However, I remembered what the teacher had said, if you lose control come back to the breathing, so that’s exactly what I did.  Back to breath I went.  It took some time to get back in that zone, a task that wasn’t exactly helped by the orgasming lady turning her pleasurable-sounding groans into anguished grunts.

I decided that lying on my back wasn’t working for me, so I got onto my knees and dived down into a yoga child’s pose, my face pointed at the floor and my arms stretched out in front of me.  For some reason this clicked.  My breath was constant, and now, despite the rapidity, felt easy, almost natural.  My feet however were dead, the tingles had turned to numbness and they may as well have not been there.  As I remained in this position and breathed in and out I was almost shocked to hear a small groan come from my larynx on an exhalation, I didn’t fight it.  On the next inhalation a bigger groan came from me, and it continued like this, with each outward breath came a louder noise.  I felt weirdly comfortable with it, completely unembarrassed by the presence of 25 strangers in the room having to listen to my now guttural growls.  And then they stopped.  I felt crushing fatigue and lay face down on the mat, allowing my breathing to become more regular.  I could have laid there like that for the next hour, but I had this weird sense that there was more to come out of me, so I sat up, had a drink of water (all whilst still blindfolded), and then started with the breathing again.

I was sat on my arse this time around, not bothered about my posture and leaning far forward.  The music, which had been loud and fast, full of percussion, slowed right down and became more gentle and fluid.  Was this the end of the class?  I’m just getting going! Thankfully it was not.  Out of nowhere I found myself chanting ‘ommmmm’ to the song, and then an omm turned into something more like singing.  I should not have been surprised really, I love to sing, and I felt a freedom inside of me that allowed it to come out.

And then the music changed again.  It soared in intensity and pace.  I remained sitting, my head hanging forward, my hands on my ankles, and back to the breath I went.

This time was different, my breath moved with the music, and my body rocked forwards and backwards with the in and exhalations.  It felt amazing to be honest, I felt fully connected to the music and myself, for a while, and then my breath turned to rasping.  I wasn’t sure what was happening, but my mind was gone by this point, there was only my body.  The rasping turned to gentle sobs, and then the gentle sobs turned to huge, heaving, uncontrollable cries.  They remained in tune with music, for a while, and then they took on a life of their own.  Two of the teaching assistants came over and placed their hands on me whilst this went on, and the human touch only served to heighten the emotion.  It was mad looking back on it, flashes of my past flew past my blackened eyes, painful memories rose from nowhere, only to then disappear just as quickly as they had appeared.  At one point I became cognizant of the fact that I had no idea why I was crying, and then started crying even harder.  My body was shaking violently, my hands were vibrating like a Nokia 5110 and felt like they had a life of their own. And then it stopped.

Now, I’ve cried before, I’ve written about this a couple of times, but I wouldn’t consider myself a big time crier.  I get a bit teary eyed if a film really pulls on the old heartstrings, and I cried properly this time last year (link here), possibly for the first time in ten years.  A regularly blubbering mess I am not, but I can do it, when pushed.  Not like this.  I’ve never cried like this.  I’ve seen people cry like this, and found it deeply uncomfortable to watch.  It was wild and uncontrollable.  I’m not sure it was entirely pleasant either, but I do know this.  Fucking hell I felt good about two hours later.

Shortly after my waterworks ceased so did the workshop.  I was a spent force, laid on my mat in a foetal position with a blanket on me, my breathing now gentle and regular, my eyes closed, my body drenched in sweat.  You know when you have really good sex and afterwards nothing matters?  You lie there completely content, sweaty, exhausted and over the moon.  I felt a bit like that.

They wrapped up the class, and the teacher came over to give me a long lingering hug before I departed.  I think I was her star pupil.  We said goodbye, I promised to come back next time she ran a workshop and stepped out onto the busy main street.  Feeling like an entirely different person to the one from walked in only three hours earlier.

Had I breathed before?  No I had not.


Footnote: I find it mad how I can now pump out 1800 words in 90 minutes.  Less than a year ago I had not written for ‘fun’ since I was a child.  Now, eleven months and 30-something posts later it comes out of me like a drunk’s piss hitting the pavement.  Proof that if you do something enough it gets easier.  Just keep at it, whatever it is.  Thank you for continuing to read my ramblings.